Electric Cars, Plug-in Hybrids, Diesels Lead the New Year Charge.
When sales are down, the excuses flow. We’ve been hearing them for three months as January-March automotive sales are almost flat compared to last year in defiance of what appears to be ongoing economic recovery. It’s the terrible weather, some say. Rising prices, others add. Some alternatives to conventional gasoline-powered cars don’t have to make any excuses; their sales are humming along quite nicely, thank you.
While overall sales languished a mere 1.3 percent above the first quarter of 2013, high-mileage electric cars, plug-in hybrids, and clean diesels continued a torrid pace similar to what they were experiencing during most of last year. The only laggard in this group was gas-electric hybrids, which dropped almost 16 percent compared to last year, based heavily on declining sales of several Prius models. Check out the gains:
- Plug-in hybrids were up 36.8 percent compared to January-March 2013
- Diesels were up 19 percent
- Pure battery electrics were up 13.4 percent
The year has also started with some juggling of the Top 10 compared to the previous year’s rankings. The Prius remains the top dog by a long shot, the only true mainstream vehicle among these alternatives, but Ford’s Fusion Hybrid is now a solid No. 2 and the Nissan Leaf and Tesla Model S (both pure electrics) appear to have moved permanently into the Top 10 along with the Hyundai Sonata Hybrid.
What may be an interesting sidelight to the overall positive news is the decline in total hybrid sales despite a record total of 44 models on the market. The big drop among Toyota models, which continue to dominate the segment, appears to be the culprit in the slip. The 22 diesels, nine battery electric cars and seven plug-in hybrids on the market pushed the total 82 alternatives to gasoline vehicles. And of course those gasoline vehicles have been getting more efficient, too, adding to the competition.
Another sidelight to note is the exceptions to falling year-to-year sales among the Top 10. The Volkswagen Passat TDI, Sonata Hybrid, Nissan Leaf and Lexus CT 200h had increased sales compared to last year while the other six fell.
Top 10 Sales January-March 2014
On top of the group – always – is the Toyota Prius, the only model on the chart with a reasonable chance of breaking 100,000 units in sales for the year. Even dropping more than 25 percent from last year’s sales total the Prius still captures just under a quarter of the total hybrid market. Most of the rest of the Top 10 are regulars, but represent the diversity that characterizes the 21st century automotive market – hybrids, diesels, battery electrics and plug-in hybrids all have representatives. In the chart below we’ve listed the sales for the first quarter of 2014 with the 2013 numbers in parentheses.
1. Toyota Prius – 25,578 – (34,981) The Prius is unchallenged as the leader among all of the alternatives, a mainstream car that ranks up with the best selling standard cars. Its share of hybrid sales is dropping as are its sales numbers as the car comes up on a model changeover in a year or so.
2. Ford Fusion Hybrid – 9,606 – (10,266) Ford’s flagship hybrid is having a good year though not quite as good as last year at this time. What is significant is that it’s solidly outselling its main rival, The Toyota Camry
3. Toyota Prius c – 8,833 – (9,865) The “baby” Prius continues to attract entry-level hybrid seekers and had a strong first quarter, with its sales dropping less than some of the other Prius variants.
4. Toyota Camry Hybrid – 8,782 – (12,434) The Camry’s hybrid version has slipped among hybrids this year, but its sales are still strong enough to keep it high on this list.
5. Volkswagen Jetta TDI – 8,151 – (9,604) The clean diesel standard-bearer continues to slot itself right alongside hybrid competitors, even with a drop in sales compared to last year. Along with the Passat TDI, they account for more than have of all diesel sales at this point.
6. Volkswagen Passat TDI – 7,769 – (7,240) The Jetta’s “big brother” has put a push on its sales in 2014, surpassing sales records for the TDI version set last year. In March the Passat TDI outsold the Jetta TDI.
7. Toyota Prius V – 6,001 – (8,525) The Prius “wagon” is having a tough year so far, dropping even more in sales than the Prius, but still maintaining a good position in the overall sales chart.
8. Hyundai Sonata Hybrid – 5.677 – (4,256) Call it the stealth hybrid. Hyundai’s hybrid models flies under the radar somewhat, but has had a great first quarter maintaining a position it moved into last year. With the Kia Optima Hybrid using the same technology the combined sales from the Korean manufacturer have moved past the Toyota Camry Hybrid level, though slightly below the Ford Fusion.
9. Nissan Leaf – 5,184 – (3,539) Nissan’s pure electric car continues to benefit from strong word-of-mouth and a price drop earlier in the year from a shift of most production to the U.S. It has been setting sales records and appears to have established itself as a viable model.
10. Tesla Model S – 4,000 – (4,750) Tesla’s pure electric has estimated sales numbers (they release the official ones when they report their quarterly earnings so we only get a glimpse of the real numbers intermittently). Production continues at a high level, but the shift of sales to Europe and soon Asia (as well as a potential saturation of the U.S. market) is affecting U.S. sales (which is all we report). It does have the “honor” of being the most expensive car in this list by a good margin.
10. Lexus CT 200h Hybrid - 4,000 – (3,245) A redesign of Lexus’ small hybrid appears to have revived its sales and bumps it into the Top 10 for this quarter.
Bubbling below the Top 10 (or 11 in this case) are several models that help boost hybrid sales. The sales numbers are close enough to those in the Top 10 that these models are likely to move up later in the year. The Ford C-Max Hybrid, Kia Optima Hybrid, Chevy Volt plug-in hybrid, Toyota Prius Plug-in Hybrid, Toyota Avalon Hybrid, Lexus ES Hybrid have now been joined by the Lincoln MKZ Hybrid. This group doesn’t rack up big numbers, but add to the strength of the whole segment.
Photos from manufacturers
Posted April 14, 2014 (compiled with Hybridcars.com & Automotive News information as reported by manufacturers)
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